Have you ever heard the following statement: “It is not how you start but how you finish that matters?” While I understand the spirit of these words, it can often be misleading and deemphasize the epic significance of starting anything with careful intentionality. As we head into a new year, may I encourage to dive in with a precise, God-guided approach that will set you up for success the rest of the year.

In my leisure reading, I recently came across an analogy that I believe will greatly help flesh out what our mindset should be at the begin of a fresh, wide-open year:

“Charley’s (first Olympic gold swimmer for America in the early 1900’s) initial dive required special attention because this is the fastest a swimmer travels in a race. During this short time, before crashing into the water, a swimmer’s airborne body encounters the least resistance. Air is more than eight hundred times less dense than water. The more distance one can cover diving through the air, the better. And the shallower a body can hit the water’s surface, rather than making a deep plunge that takes more time returning to the surface, the better the body can remain more horizontal, minimizing resistance and reducing drag. However, too shallow a dive and the swimmer can create more frontal waves that push against the body.”

Here are few takeaways for the opening moments of 2023:

Dive as far as you can.

Whatever God has laid upon your heart to stop, start, or improve, go all in. Don’t put a tepid toe in the water…to do so will not age well as the resistance to that decision will grow the further and further you go. To enter a brand new commitment with all the gusto and passion you can muster takes advantage of the oft-reduced friction “in the air” at the beginning and to build some momentum that will carry you through the setbacks and predictable resistance to come. This every-neuron of our being leaning forward is what gets the attention of the God who created not only the diver but the “open water” and everything connected to it. Remember this irrefutable principle: growth and comfort are never in the same space. To grow we have to reach until it is uncomfortable. An irrefutable law that the “that’s good enough” Asa ignored and therefore settled for unnecessary resistance in his own kingdom.

2 Ch 16:7-9 “And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said unto him, Because thou hast relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on the LORD thy God, therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of thine hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubims a huge host, with very many chariots and horsemen? yet, because thou didst rely on the LORD, he delivered them into thine hand. For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars.”

Don’t dive too deeply.

The personal goals of growth and change don’t have to be one “big hairy audacious goal” as one author puts it. Start small. For me, I have tried to add one or two small discipline that I will never quit doing moving forward. (Personal Examples: devotional journaling 6 days per week, flossing nightly, doing pushups 3 mornings per week, this year’s goals of adding situps 3 days per week and writing one handwritten note of encouragement per month.). Don’t allow your lazy, feeble-on-its-own flesh convince you that starting small doesn’t matter. Epic lives, to a man and woman, are comprised of small moments, small decisions in those small moments, and enough small decisions in small moments strung together. No exceptions. This is the truth that the Lord sought to remind the overwhelmed builder Zerubbabel through his prophet Zechariah.

Ze 4:6-10a “Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it. Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you. For who hath despised the day of small things…”

Don’t dive too shallowly.

While we should not dive too deeply in ways that keeps us from “remaining horizontal” as we swim, it is just as important not to treat this season of “new year’s resolutions” too lightly or cynically either. A superficial approach to personal transformation can set us up for unnecessary resistance that results from a focus only upon external disciplines without dealing with heart-level issues and needs. As Craig Groeschel repeats frequently, “Our goals should be ultimately WHO goals, not DO goals.” (Here’s his helpful podcast on this subject.) In other words, it is less about what I start doing/stop doing on the surface and more about who I am becoming on the inside. Any abiding renovation in our lives that propels into the next level of life and leadership must begin/work from the inside out. Something the pharisaical hypocrite in each of us is prone to forget.

Mt 23:23-26 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.”

Remember that those who feel like they are doing laps around you personally, professionally, relationally, and ministerially did not just accidentally stumble upon their present and projected success. The only thing…the only thing that differentiates them from you is how they keep coming off the starting blocks year after year. Dives that define not just how they start but how they finish before the Lord Jesus who made the ultimate dive from heaven to earth for all of us. This diving thing is not just for the Olympic-level, naturally-endowed ones in our ranks; it is for all of us who want to faithfully steward every fresh start afforded us by a new year ushered in by our gracious God who “crowns the year with his goodness” (Ps. 65:11).

Questions for Personal Reflection:

  1. Where do you need stretch yourself and reach out as early and as far as possible with your goals in the new year?
  2. Where do you need start with small, sustainable goals in that uncomfortable reach?
  3. Where do you need to focus less upon surfacey “do” goals and more upon substantive “who” goals?

Loynd, Michael. The Watermen: The Birth of American Swimming and One Young Man’s Fight to Capture Olympic Gold, 136.

Photo by Muffin Creatives: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-jumping-towards-pool-2434578/